Carol A. Hand
Lately, I have been missing lighthearted laughter. The topics I read and write about are almost all so serious, and the attempts at humor or satire, so dark and degrading. This morning I remembered one of the times when I laughed so hard tears ran from my eyes and my sides felt like they would split open. It was in the most unlikely of places – at a rural health conference held in Las Vegas. In many ways, the entire experience was surreal and somewhat ridiculous. Maybe that’s why I found the story told by a “cowboy poet” so funny at the time.
I remember thinking about the absurdity of holding a conference on rural health in Las Vegas when the agency I was working for as a consultant insisted that I attend. It was an all-expenses paid trip with pay, so how could I refuse. An Ojibwe friend would also be going, so at least I would have company, although we would be flying in from different airports.
The absurdity began when I went to find a taxi to take me from the airport to my hotel. It was almost midnight. Standing there dressed in my traveling clothes – blue jeans, jacket, and sensible walking shoes – looking like I was someone from the rez, a stretch limo driver backed up and asked if I wanted a ride. He assured me that it would be cheaper than a cab because the car was already loaded with at least five other passengers.
I agreed and climbed in as he loaded my luggage. As we neared the city, I was blown away by the lights. I had just left my cabin in the woods. Off-the grid, I only had electricity when the gas-powered generator was running. I was used to reading by light from candles or oil lamps. I wasn’t sure what to think about such a display of privilege and profligacy. By the time the limo pulled up in front of my hotel, the Mirage, I was the sole passenger. The sidewalk was filled with people who stared as I exited. I found myself amused. “Try though you might, you won’t recognize me as someone who’s famous.”
Photo: “Las Vegas (Nevada, USA), The Strip — 2012 — 18” by © Dietmar Rabich, rabich.de. (Wikipedia Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Commons)
I was momentarily disoriented as I entered into the huge, brightly-lit crowded lobby before I noticed the long lines of travelers waiting in line to register. I joined at the end of one line and settled in to wait patiently for my turn as I took in the sights. I know I always pick the slowest line, so I’ve learned to adapt and chill out.
Suddenly I noticed a disturbance at the check-in desk. It was my friend, arguing with staff behind the counter. She was obviously distraught, not an uncommon situation for her. She was one of those people who always encountered difficulties – missed flights or lost luggage. Her response was always the same irate frustration. I decided to see how I might help.
The agency she was representing had apparently failed to make her hotel reservation and all the rooms were booked. I offered to share my room with her, so the situation was easily resolved. Not ideal to spend too much time with someone who is unhappy, but I was here to work anyway.
I attended the obligatory meetings, planning sessions, and workshops. But I wasn’t sure about attending the conference lunch. The featured entertainment was “The Cowboy Poet.” The irony didn’t escape me. It was challenging enough to keep balanced when I had to deal with my disgruntled friend. Still, I was hungry and the lunch was already paid for, so we decided to go. I had my doubts as I watched the tall, thin cowboy struggle toward the stage in his high-heeled pointed-toe cowboy boots and skin-tight jeans. His huge cowboy hat and the thickly-waxed handle-bar mustache curled over his cheeks didn’t put me at ease, either. But then, he shared his poetry and I was in awe. Deeply touching stories of loneliness and profound insights and stories that made me laugh so hard I almost fell out of my chair. I looked across the table, and saw my friend was in a similar state.
I’m sorry to say I don’t remember the “cowboy’s” name, but I remember one of the stories he told. Today when I found the story on YouTube, it didn’t seem as funny. It’s still mildly amusing when I think of the context – two Ojibwe women from different rural reservations in Vegas listening to a cowboy poet.
Here’s a link if you’re interested, but viewer discretion is advised. Cowboy Poetry (Scott Mackintosh “The Bra” by Bill Hirshi.)
Despite culture, what made it funny was the cowboy’s ability to laugh at himself. I think about the things that still make me laugh. They’re times when my vulnerability as a human were exposed in embarrassing ways – a loud smelly fart as I was speaking to a closed room of snooty peers in an elite Catholic women’s college, or speaking in from of an audience wearing a crocheted vest that got stuck on the knobs of the flip chart behind me and started unraveling as I walked.
So as I begin this new year, I wanted to remember the importance of laughter. Even dealing with troubling times and topics, I need to remember to keep things in perspective. Let me celebrate life with my usual style and grace, as the words of this New Year’s greeting advice.
Photo: Recycled Paper Greetings (Gary Larson, 1983, The Far Side, FarWorks, Inc.)
I send you all my best wishes for a wonderful New Year!